Supplements: Do we really need them?

Many of my clients are taking high street brand or bargain bin supplements when they first come to see me. It’s great that the public is becoming aware of the need for additional nutrients. After all, even a healthy diet can be very depleted in nutrients due to a lot of produce being imported and, therefore, less than fresh. Also, because agricultural land is so intensively farmed, the soil is greatly lacking in nutrients. Studies have shown that the nutritional value of the fruit and vegetables we eat today contains around 50% fewer vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients than they once did.


When you consider that we live busy, stressful lives and our environment is full of nutrient-depleting toxins, it becomes easy to understand that our bodies may need a little more support.

There have been lots of studies that have created sensationalist headlines, warning that ‘supplements are bad for you!’. And yes, budget brand supplements can be bad for you. However, the studies that disrate supplements analyse these poor quality products, and not the high quality, highly regulated supplements that nutritional therapists tend to recommend.

There are thousands of scientific studies that show the therapeutic benefits of appropriate supplementation of natural nutrients.

The problem with budget brand supplements

They are very low strength

Whilst you certainly do not want to overdose on any nutrient, budget brand supplements contain such low levels of the nutrients that they are unlikely to have any therapeutic effect.

They are not natural nutrients

Instead, many are chemical copies. It’s not cheap to extract nutrients from nature without damaging them, which is why budget brands opt for creating the nutrients in test tubes. However, these chemical copies are not bioavailable. This means that the body does not recognise them and, therefore, absorbs very little of them. For example, vitamin B12 has three forms:

  • cyanocobalamin - the cheapest form, of which 80% is immediately removed from the body by the kidneys
  • hydroxocobalamin and methylcobalamin, of which only 5% is immediately excreted

Most budget brand supplements come in tableted form

This is problematic because tablets contain non-nutrients that are only there to stick the nutrients together, make the tablet look prettier, and taste more pleasant. These binding ingredients can be very difficult to digest and aren’t always fully dissolved. Capsules rarely contain these ingredients.

You need to watch the expiry dates

Supplements like fish oils, evening primrose oil, starflower oil and other oils, are prone to going off. A study that tested a wide variety of high street supplements showed that all brands tested were rancid long before their expiry dates. Taking a rancid oil is very damaging to the body.

How to choose a good supplement

There are so many different supplements out there that it’s easy to get carried away and end up taking about 20 different things. Talking to a nutrition professional can help you to suss out what nutrient support you actually need and will benefit from. There are even tests that can be done that tell you your unique requirements! You’re generally better off taking two to three very good-quality supplements, rather than lots of poor-quality ones.

Opt for supplements in capsule form as these contain fewer unnecessary ingredients. Finding quality supplements is not easy, but a tip is not to shop at the supermarket or chemist. Instead, use an independent health food shop. They often have very knowledgeable staff and they’ll order in anything you need that they don’t keep in stock.

And remember, when it comes to supplements you usually get what you pay for. So, if you want to take supplements consider them an investment in your health and go for quality, otherwise, it may be best to go without rather than choosing a budget option.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Braintree, Essex, CM77 8EU
Written by Louise Digby, Online Weight Loss Specialist
Braintree, Essex, CM77 8EU

Louise Digby is a registered Nutritional Therapist and Life Coach who practices in Essex and Suffolk, and is also available via Skype. Louise specialises in digestive concerns and is passionate about supporting her clients in their journey back to optimal health.

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